FALL CAMP DAY 17: Derting returns, Pitoitua out

PULLMAN – With Bill Doba and some members of the staff scheduled to attend a fundraiser in Coeur D'Alene, the Cougars had an early 2:30 p.m. practice on Thursday. The biggest news of the day was the return of All-America candidate Will Derting, and the second straight missed practice for starting running back Jerome Harrison. Meanwhile, Fevaea'i Ahmu drew high praise from a veteran Cougar defenseman, plus Marty Martin and Husain Abdullah look to be getting back in the swing of things.

Will Derting, who has missed the past two weeks with a hamstring pull, was finally back on the field and leading the defense from his middle linebacker spot. That meant freshman Greg Trent, who had been filling in for Derting with the first unit, moved back to the second unit to fill out the trio of true freshmen manning those spots --- namely, Trent (middle), Jason Stripling (weak side) and Cory Evans (strong side).

In just a few months on campus, they have vaulted over once-hyped youngsters Steffan Blume and Alex Hamill, both second-year freshmen.

Asked about the pair, linebackers coach Leon Burtnett indicated neither is in the plans to play much this year.

"They don't fit into the two-deep, I'll just say that," Burtnett said.

The long layoff doesn't seemed to have affected the 6-0, 237-pound Derting -- he looked very comfortable on the field and was moving at full speed.

The preseason honors also continued for the pride of Okanogan County, when he was named to the Butkus Award watch list. Derting had already been named to the watch lists for the Lombardi, Lott, Bednarik and Nagurski awards.

With Derting, Scott Davis (strong side) and Steve Dildine (weak side) making up the starting LB corps, and the three freshmen comprising the second string, Hamill has cracked the third string as the weak side ‘backer, next to juniors Brian Hall (strong side) and Chris Baltzer (middle).

Jerome Harrison said he'd had a stomach flu, and was basically being held out of practice as a precaution.

"I don't wanna go out there puking or anything like that," he joked after practice. "It's no big thing. I feel like a million bucks."

With Harrison out and No. 2 tailback Kevin McCall sidelined with a high ankle sprain, freshman DeMaundray Woolridge was the No. 1 tailback on Thursday.

Fellow freshman running back Dwight Tardy returned to the practice field Thursday, breaking off a few long runs. The Santa Fe Springs, Calif., product had missed the past week with a hamstring pull.

ANOTHER TRUE FRESHMAN, defensive tackle Fevaea'i Ahmu, worked with the first-string defense today due to Ropati Pitoitua missing practice with an undisclosed injury, widely believed to be a significant ankle injury. Starting end Mkristo Bruce had some lofty words for Ahmu: "He's going to be a Cougar legend. I can't wait until he gets to play, and he will play this year."

Bruce, who said he put on 10 pounds in the weight room in the offseason, also had praise for the defensive line as a whole: "We're 100 times better than last year. We didn't know what to expect or how to play Pac-10 ball then, but now we're all a year older. Everyone's better, and we're gonna show it this year."

With tackle Steve Cook gone to graduation, Bruce said he and opposite end Adam Braidwood have taken on a dual role as the line's leaders.

"We feel like it's our defensive line now," Bruce said. "[Adam] did a great job of getting everyone together in the offseason as a unit."

  • Husain Abdullah, one of this year's starting safeties, did some light running and backpedaling today. He has been out with an ankle injury.

  • Marty Martin was back in a crimson jersey after spending the last two days in a yellow, "no-hit" jersey similar to what the quarterbacks wear.

  • Jeremy Bohannon, last year's starting strong safety, made an appearance at practice. Bohannon is finishing up his degree this semester. During the summer he played with the Tri-Cities Fever of the National Indoor Football League, and said he would play there again next season.

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